The year 2010 was very significant for the city of Namangan as two major public sites were commissioned there: the Yoshlar Markazi Youth Centre and Musical Drama Theatre named after A. Navoi. Many prominent artists of the Republic of Uzbekistan contributed to the ornamentation of the buildings. Among the artists who created ornamental paintings on the theater ceilings and beautiful stained glass pieces in the Youth Centre was Agzamhoja Ismatovich Askarov from Tashkent, one of the few artists working with glass. He has a keen sense of the material and creates amazingly beautiful and complex stained glass windows that adorn the House of Receptions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hastimom complex, the Ministry of Public Health, the Institute of Nuclear Physics and other buildings. In this interview to our journal the artist speaks about these projects.
SJ: Agzamhoja Ismatovich, at what age did you start painting? AA: In school already. Now it makes me smile to remember why I enrolled in the ornamental painting class. I had a classmate, a boy with nothing special about him, yet he was the object of everybody’s attention. I was a terrible bully and a brawler, and during one of the breaks I pushed him against the wall and found out that he drew ornaments for the fellow students. Right the next day I went to the Republican Centre of arts and crafts for young pioneers. The ornamental painting class was led by the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Hakim Jalilov. For four years he had been my teacher. .
After the 8th grade I decided to paint the ceiling of my room. It seemed too white and therefore boring to me; besides, I was eager to apply the acquired skills to make money and help my family. — …SJ: Nevertheless, you continued you studies. As far as I know, you have a degree in economics and two academic degrees in art… AA: I do. After school, I enrolled in the Tashkent Institute of National Economy, the evening classes at the economic planning department, majoring in labour economics. That summer I met Hakim Jalilov accidentally. The teacher was quite surprised by my choice and complained about the talent being wasted. After a while he called me and said that the Ben’kov vocational art school could admit students with the certificate of completing eight grades. Following his advice, I took to my studies: the institute in the evening and the art school during the day.
SJ: How did become a student of the Mukhina Art School? AA: It’s a long story. In 1975 I went to Leningrad for my summer internship. While the curator and fellow students were unpacking, I ran to look for the Mukhina Higher Art School. I entered the lobby and stepped into a different reality. Even the Hermitage did not impress me so much. Since then I kept dreaming about this school only.After graduation from the Institute of National Economy and the Ben’kov Art School I immediately went to Leningrad. For three years I had been taking preparatory courses at Mukhina school and then did five years at the Higher Art School. In parallel, I completed a drawing course at the Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and also attended drawing classes at V. Sokolov’s studio and learned to work with glass and ceramic from A. Zaitsev.
SJ: So, already at that time glass caught your attention. Why did it appeal to you, since not many people work with glass? AA: Glass is a very hazardous non-organic mineral that destroys the earth structure and practically never decomposes. I was attracted by the possibility of transforming this negativity into the joy of contemplating beauty. Now I can articulate this idea, while at the beginning it was only intuitive. To work with glass it is important not only to feel the material, but also to know the production technology. During my Leningrad studies I was given the opportunity to go on six months training at the laboratory of the Leningrad Institute of Technology that was exploring various technical capabilities of glass. Knowledge gained there was invaluable and proved very useful in the future.
I still follow all the innovations in the field of modern glasswork technology, study them and try to apply in my work. This is essential for my art SJ: Looking at your stained glass windows adorning the Hastimom complex, or your sketches for the State Museum of the Temurid History, one may conclude that the designs and color of the ornaments are semantically loaded.
AA: Many people think that there is nothing special about ornaments — you can sit down and draw them without needing a big head. In reality, if you master the language, you can express your sentiments, feelings and thoughts like in poetry, only instead of words you employ rhythmic lines. This world is all about rhythm: sunrise and sunset, day and night, ebb and flow, the change of seasons… Ornament is the most natural element of art, even cosmic, if you like. …And philosophical too.
SJ: Your recent works were large public projects. Could you tell us more about them? AA: In the city of Namangan we worked on two projects. One is the Navoi Musical Drama Theatre where the foyer and lobby had to be decorated. Triptych in the Oriental miniature style representing the unity of poetry, music and art was created by Khurshid Nazirov, the Honorary Artist of Uzbekistan, and Mirhamid Sobirov, the member of the creative union of the Academy of Arts, assisted by his students. The author of the remarkable carved doors is a master-craftsman from Kokand, the Hero of Uzbekistan, Abdugani Abdullaev. The ornamental painting on the ceiling was made by me and Dilshod Haitmetov, professor of design at the Hojaev College; he explores the new trend in the style of ornamental miniature painting of interior, which combines tradition and modern ornamental trends. Haitmetov is an excellent teacher. I know that many students enter this college to learn the mastery from him.
The second site in Namangan is the Yoshlar Markazi Youth Centre, and we worked on it from April to June 2010. The project was developed under the state program for urban and rural development adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers resolution. The work — the synthesis of traditional plaster carving (ganch) and stained glass — was performed in a single key, just as in the Musical Drama Theatre. We decorated the suspended ceilings together with the member of the creative union of the Academy of Arts Kayumjan Mahkamov and his students. Along the edges the ceilings are made in the stained glass technique that includes traditional elements, with ganch in the centre.
SJ: Have you ever thought of sharing your spiritual, intellectual and professional knowledge with children? Do you have apprentices? AA: The sharing of knowledge and skills happens all the time. In Leningrad, for example, I delivered a class for children, where Russian boys and girls drew Uzbek ornaments. In Tashkent, in a workshop at an interschool vocational training centre I taught school students the basics of working with glass. Later on, students of the Republican Arts College attended the workshop for practice.
They say that the teacher comes when the student is ready. I am open and eagerly share my knowledge with those interested in my work. SJ: It is known that you write poetry. How do the poet and the artist get along?
AA: Oriental poetry has always interested me. I love Navoi, especially his «Lisonut Tair», and the pieces of many Persian poets. Once I showed my verses to a friend whose father was a renowned philologist, translator and poet. His approval was enough for me. SJ: So who are you? A poet, a philosopher or an artist?
AA: I believe that anyone can be a philosopher and poet. Poets and artists are people who search, and the manifestation of their quest comes either through words or a combination of different colors and paints. Their attitude to the life is philosophical.
Artists, for example, may choose to hide their world behind certain images, allegories, ornaments and symbols, or expose their soul to the limit. They should create without imposing their thoughts on the viewer, putting marks of omission, leaving things understated. If the viewer can interpret the artist’s work his own way and find consonant thoughts in it, then this should be the artist’s highest reward as he was able to create not one but several realities. And this is wonderful. At the age eleven I started thinking for the first time about who I was and why I came into this world. Since then I tried to answer these questions many times, and in different periods of life in different ways. Today I can say that we all came into this world to fully experience every instant of our life. No need to live in the past, or to postpone everything for the future. One ought to love now, forgive now, create now, and enjoy life now.